Coming into this offseason, it was a known and given fact that the bullpen needs to be dramatically improved for the team to be competitive in 2011. One of the biggest weaknesses was the lack of a second setup man, which led the Red Sox to over-rely on Daniel Bard. Hideki Okajima, who had previously taken the role of left-handed setup man was simply ineffective through most of the year, and had become increasingly less effective each year since his stellar 2007 beginning.
The name that has been connected to the Red Sox through most of the offseason has been Scott Downs, and for good reason. For years, Downs has been a highly effective setup man; effective even in the A.L. East which, as we are all aware, is not exactly the easiest division to pitch in. He's a great pitcher, effective against both lefties and righties who has proven he can handle the setup role.
Today, however, it's been reported by Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald that the Red Sox are currently in pursuit of Brian Fuentes. In my opinion, he actually would be a much more effective option for the Red Sox in 2011, so let's look at why.
First of all, just the negatives on Scott Downs. While a great pitcher, Downs is also
36 34 and, from all reports, is going to be looking at a 3-year contract. Theo is well known to dislike giving out long-term contracts to relievers, and with good reason; they, more than any other position, vary drastically from year to year. In addition to this, there seems to be a decent chance Downs would decline over the course of this contract. In addition to this, Downs is a type A free agent, meaning that the team that signs him will have to surrender their first round draft pick to the Blue Jays.
Fuentes, meanwhile, was not offered arbitration, meaning that he will not cost anything in draft picks to the signing team. It's important here to take note that this is the last year of the draft as it currently stands- in future years, it is highly unlikely that wealthy teams will be able to flex their financial muscle as effectively as they have in the past.
While he has struggled against right-handed hitters to a degree in the last year (and over his career), he still managed to put up some fairly devastating numbers against left-handed hitters in 2010, as he always has (in 2010 11.57 k/9 and 2.57 bb/9, for a 1.79 FIP, much better than Downs). Wince the principle need in the Sox bullpen is a left hander who can share setup duties with Bard for the coming year.
Fuentes is known to want a closing job, which, in a way, could actually play into the Red Sox favor. Although the Red Sox would not offer him a chance to close, if the Red Sox were willing to overpay him for a year, he would probably be content to take the money, build up his stats this year, and then pursue a closing job after the 2011 year. The cost of overpaying him would probably only be slightly over what Downs will make in a year, and the Red Sox could view the added cost as the price of keeping all of their high draft picks for 2010.
It wouldn't have seemed possible to me until Werth signed his surprising mega-contract with Washington, but it actually seems feasible to make it through the offseason, improving the team greatly, without signing a single type-A free agent, ensuring the Red Sox no less than 7 draft picks in the first two rounds of the 2011- which is supposed to be one of the strongest draft classes in recent years.
Certainly the Red Sox have money still left to spend in this offseason, and signing Fuentes rather than Downs could improve the organization in several ways for the future, while effectively improving the bullpen in the short term. Bring him on!